Local church ministry can be thrilling, even addictive. Seeing the Lord transform lives and bring people into a relationship with Himself provides a buzz that nothing in this world can provide. And because we are prone to replace God on the throne of our lives with something else, something lesser, ministry can easily become the god of a church leader.
There is a temptation to love ministry more than God, a tendency to rejoice more in the ministry God has given us than in God Himself. I know. I know because I have been the idolatrous church leader. I have been the leader who craves ministry influence more than God, the leader who rejoices more loudly for ministry impact than the simple truth that I am His.
Jesus knew the temptation to commit ministry idolatry would be very real to us. After He sent out His disciples to minister to people in towns, they returned filled with joy. They were stoked because they had experienced the great joy of God working through them. “Even the demons submit to us in Your name,” they declared (Luke 10:17). Jesus affirmed the authority He had given them but also gave them a caution: “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20). In other words, be careful what ultimately causes you to rejoice.
If we only rejoice in God because of what He is doing through us and not because of what He has already done in us, we cherish our ministry more than Him. If our awe for what He is doing through us surpasses our awe for what He has done for us, we have made ministry our god.
The renowned pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones was diagnosed with cancer and struggling with his health in his final months. His biographer, Iain Murray, asked him how he was coping with his shrinking influence, the inability to be used by God to minister to the thousands that he had previously been serving. Martyn Lloyd-Jones responded: “Don’t rejoice that spirits submit to you. Rejoice that your name is written in heaven.” I am perfectly content.
How can you tell if you are prone to committing ministry idolatry? Here are five questions I have been considering:
1. How much of my contentment is connected to the tide of my ministry influence?
2. Do my prayers reflect that I am more thankful for the salvation He has provided for me or for the ministry He has given me?
3. If I had to choose, which would I prefer: a closer walk with Jesus or a more “effective ministry”?
4. If my ministry were suddenly taken from me, would I still rejoice as Lloyd-Jones did?
5. Do I seek God only for His blessing and direction or do I also seek God for Himself?
We too can be perfectly content if we rejoice most in the reality that Jesus has separated our sins from us, as far as the east is from the west.